The Origin of Species [with Biographical Introduction]

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In The Origin of Species the English naturalist Charles Darwin outlined the theory of natural selection, or "survival of the fittest," as the explanation for the changing of living beings over time. His father was a successful doctor, as was his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, who had a great influence on Charles's later theories. His mother, who was the daughter of the famous pottery maker Josiah Wedgwood — , died when Charles was eight.

His sisters then raised him. At the age of nine Charles entered Shrewsbury School. He was not a very good student.

Darwin's Origin of the Species: A Biography

In Darwin went to Edinburgh University in Scotland to study medicine, but he soon realized that he was unable to even watch an operation being performed. In he entered Christ's College, Cambridge, England, to become a minister. He soon gave up that idea also, but he continued to study. He attended John Stevens Henslow's course in botany the study of plants , started a collection of beetles that became famous, and read widely. He received his bachelor's degree in On Henslow's recommendation Darwin was offered the position of naturalist for the second voyage of H.

The Origin of Species

Beagle to survey the coast of South America. The Beagle left in December and returned in October During the voyage Darwin studied many different plants and animals and collected many specimens, concentrating on location and habits. Darwin was influenced in his Beagle studies by scientist Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology —33 , which stated that present conditions and processes were clues to the Earth's past history.

Darwin noticed on the trip that certain types of organisms existed only in certain areas and that many organisms had gone through changes that made it easier for them to survive in certain environments. For example, he studied a type of bird called a finch and realized that there were over a dozen different kinds. The size and shape of the beaks of these birds differed depending on what kind of food was available in the area each lived in.

Darwin's Journal of Researches was published in With the help of a government grant to cover the cost of the illustrations, the Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle was published in five volumes from to A number of scientists wrote articles on fossils the preserved remains of creatures from an earlier age , living mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles. Darwin edited the work. He contributed information on the habits and ranges of the animals and made notes on the fossils. He also published The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs , for he had studied the coral reefs in the Cocos Islands during the Beagle voyage.

In and Darwin wrote short accounts of his views on evolution change and improvement over time. However, the publication of other related works around the same time caused great controversy dispute and criticism of the authors, and Darwin decided the time was not yet right for him to enter the argument.

Darwin: On the Origin of Species - Summary and Analysis

He decided to wait and do more research. Darwin studied the practices of pigeon breeders, he conducted experiments on differences in plants and animals over time, and he worried about the problem of plant and animal transport across land and water barriers—for he believed in the importance of isolation for the creation of new species.

In May Lyell heard of Darwin's ideas and urged him to write an account with full references. Darwin sent a chapter to Lyell and Sir Joseph Hooker, who were deeply impressed. In June , when Darwin was Charles Darwin. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Lyell and Hooker arranged for a reading of a combined paper by Wallace and Darwin, and it was presented at a meeting of the Linnaean Society in London, England, on July 1.

SparkNotes: Charles Darwin: The Origin of Species

The paper had little effect. His basic idea was that in the struggle to survive, some organisms adapt better than others to their surroundings, and when these survivors give birth they pass their traits on to their offspring, causing species to evolve.


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An English philosopher seeker of wisdom named Herbert Spencer created the phrase "survival of the fittest" to describe this idea. The publication of Darwin's book brought worldwide attention to his theory and created heated dispute. After speaking to Huxley and Hooker at Downe in April , Darwin began writing a triple-volume book, tentatively called Natural Selection , which was designed to crush the opposition with a welter of facts.

Darwin now had immense scientific and social authority, and his place in the parish was assured when he was sworn in as a justice of the peace in Encouraged by Lyell, Darwin continued writing through the birth of his 10th and last child, Charles Waring Darwin born in , when Emma was 48 , who was developmentally disabled. Whereas in the s Darwin had thought that species remained perfectly adapted until the environment changed, he now believed that every new variation was imperfect, and that perpetual struggle was the rule.

He also explained the evolution of sterile worker bees in Darwin had finished a quarter of a million words by June 18, That day he received a letter from Alfred Russel Wallace , an English socialist and specimen collector working in the Malay Archipelago , sketching a similar-looking theory.

Darwin was away, sick, grieving for his tiny son who had died from scarlet fever , and thus he missed the first public presentation of the theory of natural selection. It was an absenteeism that would mark his later years.

The Origin of Species (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Suffering from a terrible bout of nausea , Darwin, now 50, was secreted away at a spa on the desolate Yorkshire moors when the book was sold to the trade on November 22, The book did distress his Cambridge patrons, but they were marginal to science now. A sensitive Darwin, making no personal appearances, let Huxley , by now a good friend, manage that part of the debate. The pugnacious Huxley, who loved public argument as much as Darwin loathed it, had his own reasons for taking up the cause, and did so with enthusiasm.

From the SparkNotes Blog

That year, too, Darwin met his German admirer, the zoologist Ernst Haeckel , whose proselytizing would spread Darwinismus through the Prussian world. Long periods of debilitating sickness in the s left the craggy, bearded Darwin thin and ravaged. He once vomited for 27 consecutive days. Down House was an infirmary where illness was the norm and Emma the attendant nurse. She was a shield, protecting the patriarch , cosseting him.

Darwin was a typical Victorian in his racial and sexual stereotyping—however dependent on his redoubtable wife, he still thought women inferior; and although a fervent abolitionist, he still considered blacks a lower race. But few outside of the egalitarian socialists challenged those prejudices —and Darwin, immersed in a competitive Whig culture , and enshrining its values in his science , had no time for socialism.

The house was also a laboratory , where Darwin continued experimenting and revamping the Origin through six editions. In Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication he marshaled the facts and explored the causes of variation in domestic breeds. By showing that fanciers picked from the gamut of naturally occurring variations to produce the tufts and topknots on their fancy pigeons , Darwin undermined this providential explanation.

In the engineer Fleeming Jenkin argued that any single favourable variation would be swamped and lost by back-breeding within the general population. Darwin was adept at flanking movements in order to get around his critics.



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